When American and Western sanctions against Russia went into effect, practically all segments of Russian society - from President Putin down to your average man on the street - struck a defiant tone. Russia will be able to weather this storm, was the message, and the country will go on just fine. There was some truth behind the bluster. While Moscow and St. Petersburg are cosmopolitan cities with all the offerings of their Western European counterparts, the rest of the country - small towns and cities, numerous villages and far-flung population centers - is less integrated into global commercial flows and for the most part already had scant access to products and services covered by the sanctions.
More substantial damage, however, may have been inflicted by Moscow's own retaliatory sanctions. When Russia banned the import of certain products the European Union, there was some concern over Russia's ability to substitute domestic fare for much-liked European foods.
So how have these sanctions hit the wallets of ordinary Russians? The daily Komsomolskaya Pravda dryly remarked that "market forces put everything in its place." Meat, fish, milk and poultry products saw the steepest price hikes in supermarkets across the country. The same can be said for basic vegetables, including that Russian staple the potato. Of course, such price fluctuations will vary from region to region, and those who wish to circumvent the sanctions altogether can still easily find all of the "forbidden fruits."
The same paper, in fact, ran a story explaining how to acquire these products. The article featured a businessman's advice on exploiting a legal loophole: "Register an import company in brotherly Belarus - and import to Russia everything that you need from the West. You can get anything into Moscow through the Customs Union (of which Russia and Belarus are part) - just make sure to register products through the Belorussian company."
Finally, the Russian government may have a point when it claims that punishing Moscow is impossible - Russia is already part of the global economy. In place of banned Western products, Muscovites may soon be buying Serbian cheese, and potentially shrimp from Indonesia. The forces of supply and demand, in the meantime, will continue to reinforce the Russian black market, which is already robust having weathered the tremendous ups and downs of the 1990s and 2000s. Recently, government officials in the Voronezh region (close to Ukraine's eastern border) confiscated 15,000 kilograms of banned cheese in what they called the largest and "most brazen" violation to date.